Psychology + Zen = Philosophy and methods to relieve suffering and reveal happiness.

Psychology:  We project onto others what we reject in ourselves.  Some call it a Shadow.  Healing comes from making the unconscious conscious, taking responsibility for our projections, integrating what is split off as our own thing. 

Zen:  There is no separate self.  When we can be at one with every aspect, then we belong everywhere and we reject no one.  

We heal the world by becoming intimate with our whole selves.   


Sunday
Jul012018

How to atone for Trump, part one

Only recently have I experienced even a distant cousin of hope, but now I see that it has been accumulating somewhere in between my reactions to the awful foreground. 

First there was Rebecca Solnit who made the point, almost viral now, that the main ingredient for hope is uncertainty. Then there was a talk by a visiting teacher describing how nuns in a female monastery put their focus on their own ethical behavior instead of fighting the entrenched misogyny and oppression in the wider culture of Japan. Then Ryotan Sensei gave a penetrating talk on the precepts and drew attention to how we manifest right now, ethically, without knowing, without separating from any of the evil karma, taking responsibility for it all. And then I started to read Emergent Strategies, which applies complexity theory (in a very cheerful way!) to the movement.

It got me thinking about how, exactly, do we take responsibility for It All? At the VZ Open Mic recently, I decided to ask the question of the audience and got some great answers. I'm going to keep asking the question, and what I hear will be featured in my Dharma Talk on August 12th. For now, I'll sketch out the two categories of answers and invite you to comment. In the first were people who said that they can only work on their own karma, that including Trump would overwhelm them. In the second were people who took on the question of how their actions affect the whole, and each had a different way of expressing or understanding what they do. I found the entire conversation heartening and in keeping with my own brand of expression: getting people talking and playing with difficult dynamics. 

My understanding right now is that there is a potent if not visible connection between the work we do in our own sphere and what happens Out There, so whether you see it as your karma or their karma, it's the same work. Trump's angry and greedy policies must be stopped, but that is both not quite possible and also not enough. Yesterday I participated in the march to Keep Families Together in New York, and enjoyed the experience more than I usually do because I wasn't focussed on the apparent hopelessness of affecting the politicians but on the community I was with, the Buddhist Action Coalition. People were looking out for each other, offering suncreen, water, shade, encouragement, permission to leave if necessary, and the march leaders were modeling the same. Caring for each other strengthens the coalition that will rise up when capitalism crumbles or is brought down.

We also need to address 'othering' in our own communities--subtle misogyny and racism and ablism that play out in micro-interactions many times a day. I appreciate SURJ's intention to call in instead of call out. The person who speaks political incorrectivisms is one of us, even a Trumpite could be one of us one day. None of us knows enough about what goes on inside another group, so let's be curious and respectful. 

I gave an answer to my question, by the way. Atoning for family legacy, I read and embodied a poem by my mother on beauty and aging. 

Stay tuned, or chime in, but let's keep doing what we do and appreciate each other.

June 2018

Monday
Apr302018

Upside down mother

"All I want is for you to be happy."

As Mother's Day looms, let's honor the truth coming out of the convict's mouth. This blessing, worthy of a Zen master, delivers deep love, an impossible prescription, and a promise of self-annihilation. Reconcile it and freedom is yours.

A monk asked Yun Men: "When it is not the present intellect and it is not the present phenomena, what is it?" Yun Men replied: "An upside down statement," or the convict's truth, which pairs nicely with his answer in the previous story: "An appropriate statement."

Mama, I think that about covers it. Thank you for doing the right thing when you could. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was impossible. Thank you for trying and failing so I could see what was possible. Thank you for wanting what I could never achieve so that I could abandon all hope and enter The Way.

How could I be happy as a child, a disabled burden to displaced parents? How can I be happy as an adult living in a culture that offers poison as happiness potion? When greed is cultivated as virtue, when difference is punished or expelled, when violence excites us so much we can hardly hear the birds sing, how can we be happy?

Mama is just telling it as she learned it, says Jacqueline Rose, writing in Harper Mag. Mama is allowed and expected to be a tiger on behalf of her child but she may not express her own despair. "What the pain of mothers must not expose is a viciously unjust world in a complete mess."

Locked into a fiction, Mama provides an upside down statement.

As a daughter I long for the satisfaction that eluded my mother. As a mother I wish I could give what I never got. My heart breaks for my daughter as it breaks for all of us who thought never again meant something we could count on, who thought we were progressing. All I can offer now is participation. I participate in the tragedy, participate in the blooming trees and sunshine, participate in the enormous moon rising.

Sometimes I even participate in the damn patriarchy. 

And I am happy. 

April 2018

You can listen to the talk on Mother's Day that followed from this post here.

June 2018

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr032018

Yanyang's Thing: Ode to Sangha

The diamond sword. The black snake.“Trust the process,” said my new romance, as everything converged.

The spectacular and ridiculous ritual known as Shuso Hossen became the focus that yanked my fragments together last month. Fear was a constant companion but the terror was wildest when I imagined Dharma Combat, the challenge to “Dragons and Elephants” in the Dharma Hall to confront me, to demand answers to potent life questions. Having watched a few of these, each time amazed at the deft handling of such deep inquiry, I was certain that I could never measure up.

Certainty is not usually good preparation and yet I longed for it. The koan that spoke to me seemed to have a ready-made answer for any question:

Venerable Yanyang asked Zhaozhou, “When not a single thing is brought, then what?” Zhaozhou said, “Put it down.” Yanyang said, “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down? Zhaozhou said, “Then carry it out.”

Of course I envisioned many variations that would give me the opportunity to shout: "Put it down!" But that wasn’t the process that unfolded. Something told me that the heart of the koan was the encounter between these two men, the sincerity of the second question leading to the final opening. “If I don’t bring a single thing, what should I put down?” Now he is truly confused. He thought he had the right answer, but the fog of confusion shatters the words...now he’s ready.

“Then carry it out.”  Bammo!  Yanyang sees it. Enlightenment follows--colors vivid, hearing animals speak, love permeating everything, you know how it is.

So I knew that I had to keep encountering teachers as I prepared. I presented one answer; it seemed to work so I repeated it, and failed. Every effort to nail it down failed.

So it is with improvisation, which was my theme during the retreat. Sneakily, I called it “Form and Adaptation,” but those in the know knew that it was improvisation. Ruth Zapporah, a master theatrical improviser, articulates my greatest fear:


"There’s always the risk of disaster—the show where nothing gels, nothing lifts off, the show where I don’t lift off. My disembodied thoughts collide into one another as they work double-time to make a good show, to make it appear as if everything is as it should be, that I’m on top of it, that it’s really a fine piece of theater. But in fact nothing is aligned—my mind is refusing to play, and my body is so far away from me that I can’t climb into it and don’t even remember how."

What is the remedy? What preparation prevents that from happening? People advised me to be 'myself,' but therein lies the impossibility, the koan. Having designed a variety of selves to coordinate with this or that context, how can I know what ‘myself’ actually is?

Says Ruth, "The fake space is the space between the doer and what is being done." Does that help?

Not the words but the doing. When there is no space between doer and doing, that is intimacy. And the only things that matters in Dharma Combat is intimacy. So all the improvisation I got to practice prepared me. My strange romance, meeting delusions, meeting the human, meeting my longings prepared me. Every encounter with a teacher, with a senior student, with a dharma brother or sister, with a person in my psychotherapy practice, every encounter without exception showed me something that I didn’t know. It wasn’t the brand new knowledge that prepared me but the refreshment of not knowing. That's how we put it down.

When I gave the dharma talk on the koan I featured the people in the room, some of the dearest people in the world to me. But now, the arrow points to you. You are helping me wake up to what is real and true. And someone is helping you. Even if you don’t know you’re doing it, especially if you don’t try, you are part of the enlightening. Buddha famously said (even though I can't find the damn quote and I don't have time to hunt for it*) that he was enlightened along with everyone and everything. 

Do your thing in this tragic world, whatever moves you to protest our poisonous culture. And as you do it, see each other, encounter something you don't know.

with love, Elena Yuuka 
*Beautiful Roshi wrote me from Kyoto with the quote and source: Keizan’s commentary of Case One of Transmission of the Light: 
“I, the great earth, and all sentient beings are simultaneously enlightened”

**please help me decide on comment options. I made a FB page to protect from trolls who were invading this site, but is FB safe? comments enabled so you can answer if you wish.
 

 

 

Tuesday
Feb272018

What's the Rush? Not the Finale

Here's what's happening, but not yet.I would love to declare: Done with that and here is the answer, but I've discovered that it keeps going, the inquiry never ends. What is the rush?  Every answer has something to do with not meeting reality as it is.

In a rush to get somewhere, I am not satisfied with what's happening now. Now is a transition, but it is also complete in itself. I'm aiming to make the 10:19 train, but how am I doing that? I can aim by imagining missing the train and trying to hurry up. Then, anxiety builds and steals attention from pouring tea into my thermos. I drop the cover, wasting precious seconds and getting more tense. Or I can aim into the damn thermos and have a better chance of catching the train.

I have one of those minds where the boundaries between things are not so clear. Soon leaks into Now, and I become overwhelmed. But I really appreciate this mind and I'm not going to trade it in for one of those linear compartmentalizing versions, not that there is anything wrong with them! What I need to do is keep drawing my attention to the specific reality of this moment. Of course, meditation is great for that, and then when meditative awareness meets life as it is beautiful things happen.

I've spent this month designing an Urban Retreat for the Village Zendo. At its conclusion, I get to give my first Dharma Talk and engage in Dharma Combat, which is really just a conversation (oh, please let it be a conversation!). If I survive the battle--no no, the conversation--I become a senior student. It means a lot, and nothing at all. 

Wednesday
Jan312018

Subway Practice

You know how it is, you want to be home. It’s been a long day, sometimes challenging sometimes delightful but now every moment competes with the imagined rest at home. Naturally there is a massive subway delay. Maybe it’s a power outage, so all trains are re-routed to the local track, politely waiting for each other: stop, lurch, stop, wait, Thank you for your patience... We apologize for any inconvenience.

One night I rushed to get to the train before “Planned Work” eliminated service at my stop. Alas, they decided to start said work early, so thirty minutes on the bus replaced what I would have preferred to do. The next night they did the exact. same. thing. but forgot to notify the buses, so a hundred people stood in biting nine-degree wind for forty minutes.

That’s what it’s like to try to get home. Angry exhaustion. Why do I even live here?

How about when you try to get to work? Now it’s anxiety that dominates. I want to be a model of reliability but rarely allow the extra forty minutes that it would take to diminish the panic when the train halts unexpectedly. The conductor, required to say something, generates a plausible reason that a hundred thousand New Yorkers will be late for appointments, interviews, dates, classes, disappointing a hundred thousand other New Yorkers who counted on them.

Why do I live here? Even when the subway is working properly, a very smelly or a very loud person will seize my attention and ask for a donation. If I tuck into a corner seat to protect myself from “SHOWTIME,” a couple will surround me and chat over my face. ARE YOU LISTENING?!This man played his drum remarkably loud while riffing on judgmental people who refuse to give him attention. He thought it was funny.When I took a photo of him, he turned some venom on me and this man laughed and clapped.

 

 

Riding the subway I cannot avoid human interaction. I cannot live according to plan or desire. I am trapped. Reality is inescapable.

Last week a young man standing near me said “What does this even mean? a government shutdown, what is that?”  I answered and we had a chat. Yesterday there was a booming announcement that the train was skipping all stops and going straight to 207th street because there was a giraffe on the tracks. A young man doing his algebra was stunned, then broke out laughing when we realized it was a joke. He couldn’t work out how the train could get around the giraffe, and another dude, not realizing that Algebra Guy was probably on the autism spectrum, mocked him.

Have a look at the first shot. Before he got off the train, the guy reading a book gave the tiny woman with the bags his scarf. I caught his eye and we were both crying. The tiny woman smiled. 

It’s all here. That’s why I live in NYC and ride the damn train. I would love to say, oh yeah and I breathed into it and the feelings changed and I entered Nirvana and you can too, but it’s messier than that. Sometimes I appreciate the diversity. Sometimes I just want everyone to go away. Sometimes I’m wide open and joy pours through me and out of me. Sometimes I growl and curse, embarrassed by my huge Village Zendo button that perhaps proclaims freedom from Dukkha. Well, no, life is suffering and I’ll take a big helping, thank you.January 2018

And also, there are trees uptown.

Comments welcome on Facebook.

 

 

Sunday
Dec242017

and a Happy New Year!

I'm off to the Village Zendo Winter Retreat, and it occurs to me that you might be thinking about intentions. I made up this form for my community, because we are studying Dogen's text on Expression, or what I think of as creativity.  I invite you to consider it, and I wish you an awesome turning. 

oh, and no tax break for me. How about you?  Comments welcome on Facebook

Till next year!

December 2017

 

 

Sunday
Dec242017

Why I Love the Solstice!

Let me count the ways!

1. It's my birthday.

Enough? It seems like everyone is catching on nowadays. See this nice piece by Taylor Plimpton, for example. I can remember the moment, almost 20 years ago now, when the major depression that felled me every "Happy Holiday" lifted for good. I was on a retreat with Shefa Gold, and she spoke of the clarity of the light within the dark, the contraction before the expansion. Once I welcomed the dark, I could notice the real sparks, not just the tinsel. 

Since then I have loved this time. I give myself permission to do little, to sort through Things To Do and drop as many as possible, to simplify gift giving, and skip festivities whenever possible. And this year I chose to be alone, to feel my life, and it was wonderful. Without having to speak, I was able simply to receive.

That's enough language. Enjoy!

Comments welcome on Facebook.        

December 2017

Friday
Dec012017

How old are you?

Crones tell it like it is, in about a minute.  with Ara Fitzgerald, Nancy LeRoy, ReW Starr, Elena TaJo.   

Comments welcome on FaceBook.

November 2017

 

Wednesday
Nov292017

Winter Retreat

It’s winter, cold and dark. You think nothing would be better than to lie on the beach day after day, soaking up the sun and drinking things with cute toppings. Before you go too far, let me remind you of the return rebound—the dread that can only be relieved by the agony of beginning work again.  A Zen retreat turns that around. You spend a few days practicing Zen meditation and ritual in community—tasting delicious food in silence, greeting a few demons, walking a little and sitting a lot. And when you return to your ordinary life, it reveals itself as a miracle!

The schedule is rigorous, with sitting meditation interspersed with walking, chanting, eating, dharma talks and interview with teachers, and also luxurious, with time for naps and contemplation. Everyone is doing the same thing without being able to talk about it. It's brilliant, really. Like working in a cafe or library, or exercising in a gym, the company of others strengthens resolve, which is helpful when your mind wants to go off in its gazillion little fantasies that seem preferable to real life.

Here are some of the practices and benefits that accrue:

  • You get to give up control. The schedule and assignments are in control. You are given a job and you do it, whether you know how to do it or not, and whether you like it or not. No decisions! The executive function and the worker function of the brain get to take a break from each other, making it possible to really focus on what you are doing.
  • You get to survive a lot of mistakes. You will likely be assigned a little job that you haven’t done before, so you get to mess up and truly realize that it is ok, and then the moment is gone.  
  • You get to realize that you can do without things you thought you needed. Do you remember the experience of life without jumping up and checking something every five minutes?  
  • Because there is NOTHING else going on, you become acutely aware of tiny variations in lived experience.  A bead of sweat rolls down the neck, tickles a little, and then the fan whooshes by and cools it.  A hot flash comes and goes. A thought about performance runs its course, from humiliation to rage to hilarity.

How does this all benefit everyday life?  in 10,000 ways. Here are some of the cool things that upon re-entry suddenly seem so easy:

  • Switching attention completely, letting go.  
  • Seeing people as they are.  
  • Being clear about spheres of influence.
  • Enjoying the taste of food.
  • Making decisions.

Not to mention the pleasure. 

It’s really a blast.  Come join us!

November 2017

Monday
Nov272017

A Dangerous 'Me Too'

Me too. 

Is he a villain?The revelations have prompted a potent and welcome challenge to the patriarchy. It's time for men to take responsiblity for mis-use of power, for sexualizing professional exchanges, for crossing of boundaries, and for just generally acting entitled to take what they want. It's time for men to claim their emotional life

But they can't do it alone. Women have been colluding in the patriarchy all along, and it's time to stop. Bell Hooks calls out mothers who reinforce gender norms, is disappointed when they give up and buy the guns. But mothers can't do it alone. I know from experience how it is to go against the prevailing culture. It's damn lonely, you make mistakes, and the kids won't thank you.  

As Pema Chodron says, Start Where you Are, by acknowledging what we do. Weinstein claimed he was playing by an earlier set of rules. I have perpetuated the patriarchy by playing by those rules. I have said no when I meant yes and said yes when I didn't know what I wanted or how to trust myself. There were times I would have gladly volunteered for the casting couch, not just to get the job but also because playing with power can be fun. 

Boundaries and power are confusing to navigate. Once, I jumped into someone’s arms and they considered it a violation and cut off contact forever. Clearly I mistook friendliness for permission to play. Once, I flirted with a young man whom I was employing. Did he think he had to flirt back to keep the job? Probably I underestimated my power. More than once, I made sexual innuendos in public settings. Possibly people were uncomfortable but felt even less comfortable saying so.

Someone I know has been sexually harrassed. Someone I know has been accused of sexual harassment. Both situations are saturated with trauma. Each situation has a particular configuration of variables whose combination and intensity differentiates a mistake from a crime.

To stop these tragedies, we need to go beyond casting out villains and learn a new civility, learn how to talk about power dynamics, boundaries, and consent. Start here. 

November 2017